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Fifty Shades of Grey sparks unexpected marketing mania

Publishers and sex shops want to cash in

E. L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, at a book signing in London. Photo: Reuters

E. L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, at a book signing in London. Photo: Reuters

Wildly popular erotica trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has inspired publishers, record labels, sex shops and even crafty parents to submit – to the desire to cash in, that is.

If people want this stuff, why not? If we can get it out there to people, then that’s a good thing

The trio of novels by British writer E.L. James that has so far sold 32 million copies in the US has spawned a legion of fans clamouring for anything and everything Grey-related. And businesses are aiming to meet that demand.

Manhattan sex shop Babeland co-founder Claire Cavanah said after the final book in the trilogy was released in the US in January, customers “were asking for specific toys that they had read about”, but when the trilogy was re-released in April, “the product sales started to really spike”.

Since then Cavanah noticed a seven-fold increase in demand for a particular sex toy featured in a scene between the book’s two main characters, the dominant Christian Grey and ingénue Anastasia Steele.

The store also sells special Fifty Shades kits and hosts Fifty Shades-themed workshops that teach the mostly female attendees how to use the ‘toys’, but Cavanah said that was not the only curiosity – “They also just want to get together and see each other.”

Fans have also been offered Fifty Shades-themed fashions, accommodations and, more recently, an official music album.

Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album, featuring Bach and Chopin, is the only spin-off item James has so far endorsed.

Released by EMI with tracks James personally selected, it debuted at No. 1 on the US classical charts in September. The album resulted after another Fifty Shades compilation series hit No. 1 in July on iTunes, said EMI Classics Vice President Wendy Ong.

Asked about the other spin-off products at the New York album launch, James told reporters: “All of this has been a huge shock to my system. If people want this stuff, why not? If we can get it out there to people, then that’s a good thing.”

Yet some eyebrows have been raised at other efforts by entrepreneurs, including one British hotel that replaced its nightstand Bibles with copies of Fifty Shades, with the Damson Dene Hotel owner Jonathan Denby saying the hotel wanted to provide “something that people actually want to read”.

Even baby clothes have been subjected to the marketing blitz. One Toronto couple emblazoned baby onesies with sayings like “9 months ago my mommy read 50 Shades of Grey” and “All Mommy wanted was a night with Mr Grey”.

The feedback has been mixed, but seller Kyle Lawley said that he and his wife had been surprised by strong sales. “Some people say ‘it’s taboo, I’d never put my kid in that’, and others say it’s clever, it’s funny, it’s humorous,” he said.

Publishers are also looking to cash in on the trend. Penguin’s Diary of a Submissive: A Modern True Tale of Sexual Awakening, has been marketed by directly comparing it to Fifty Shades, which was initially self-published on the internet.

Other publishers, such as those of racier versions of literary classics such as Jane Eyre, and Sherlock Holmes, say the link is less transparent.

A new version of Wuthering Heights will be released in October featuring Catherine and Heathcliff engaging in bondage.

The books publisher, Total-E-Bound founder Claire Siemaszkiewicz, said James’s series made it easier for sexed-up books to gain a market foothold but dismissed criticism that the classics have been sullied, saying they have been brought “to a new generation of reader”.

A Fifty Shades film is also in the works but James has vowed she will not write any more books for the series. Still, her next book should whet fiction fans’ appetites: “It’s an erotic tale, yeah. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” she said coyly.

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